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Purely lifesaving: New Jersey's WorldWater & Solar Technologies provides its water filtering systems to hurricane affected areas

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The recent string of hurricanes have brought portions of the Caribbean islands, large U.S. cities and the entire island of Puerto Rico to their knees. In the immediate aftermath, people in these areas have needed shelter, food, medical supplies, and drinking water.

For this last need, Princeton-based WorldWater & Solar Technologies has been helping people get drinking water with the use of their solar-powered water filtering technology. The company has sent two of their mobile units to Puerto Rico already, and they were preparing six more at press time.

“We are having to run as fast as we can to build them,” Worldwater & Solar CEO Quentin Kelly said. “The United States Government Service Agency has told us we can expect up to 50 orders for Puerto Rico.”

In addition to Puerto Rico, Kelly said their water-filtering systems were sent out to Curacao, Haiti and Guam this month.

For more than 30 years, the company has provided clean water and power all over the world — from the most remote places to the banks of the Gulf Stream after Hurricane Katrina. The company has two products: its Mobile MaxPure and its little brother, SHEPS. These are pop-up solar-powered water filtration systems that make clean water and electricity available whenever and wherever they are needed.

Almost 70 Mobile MaxPures are operating around the world, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Japan and Africa. The system was not used after Superstorm Sandy in New Jersey. “Even though we lost a lot of power during Sandy, we still had clean water,” said Michael Ingles, vice president of production at Worldwater & Solar Technologies.

Once deployed, the Mobile MaxPure provides clean water from any water supply including contaminated city water and ocean water. Or, as with the case with flooded locales, it can take toxic, bug- and garbage-infested water and make it potable. Additionally, when the filtration system is bypassed, the Mobile MaxPure can be used to pump standing water out of buildings at a rate of up to 100,000 gallons a day.

The Mobile MaxPure ships as a seven-foot cube; when it’s deployed, this is a full water purification and energy supply system with a 20-by-20 foot square footprint. This easily transportable water filtration and processing solution has saved the day after myriad natural disasters all over the world.

The system can be set up immediately on site after arrival and uses no gasoline, diesel or external power. Thanks to the sun, Worldwater & Solar’s Mobile MaxPure provides clean water and power for critical needs including medical and emergency facilities.

MaxPure, which is manufactured in Williamstown, NJ, is available in both freshwater Ultrafiltration (it can purify even the most putrid standing water) as well as Standard with Reverse Osmosis (RO) Water Purification to treat seawater and chemically contaminated water.

The freshwater option processes and purifies up to 30,000 gallons per day from freshwater. (Freshwater is a misnomer; in fact, here it is referred to as any water that isn’t salinated or chemically treated. So in this context, standing water in flooded streets is considered fresh water.)

The RO system can pump 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water out of the ocean daily, remove the salt and chemicals and turn it into clean drinking water. This process takes a tremendous amount of solar energy which is why it takes so much longer to do its job.

The Mobile MaxPure can be set up and ready to produce clean water in only 30 minutes. Powered by the sun, it can be used absolutely anywhere and even provides excess auxiliary AC/DC electricity for smaller electronics and small appliances in the field. A plug-in generator or grid power for additional processing is available. This system weighs 6,000 pounds.

A third option, SHEPS (Solar Hybrid Expeditionary Power and Purification System) is the size of a suitcase and weighs less than 70 pounds. It’s completely solar-powered and can be tossed in the back of a car or checked on an airplane. Even more impressive, this filtration system provides reverse osmosis and can produce 400 gallons of clean water a day.

Five SHEPS, originally designed for military use for the U.S. Army and Marines Special Operations units, are also headed to Puerto Rico.

Kelly said the Mobile MaxPure system sells for $132,000 for the Reverse Osmosis option and $113,000 for the freshwater system. SHEPS is sold for $20,000 and a 24-hour SHEPS with a lithium ion battery is sold for $30,000.

“Our challenge is that when it comes to disaster relief, no one spends money in advance. But, when there is a crisis, a lot of money is thrown at an effort. When people want our products, they want them in 24 hours. That’s just not possible,” Kelly said.

The larger systems take up to 60 days to build; SHEPS can be built in 45 days.

The Mobile MaxPure received the first of five patents in early 2000, but the concept had been in development since the mid-1980s. Kelly was working in the Sudan when he realized that there were about 100,000 people from Ethiopia who were dying from lack of clean drinking water.

“I asked about the water table in the desert and found out that there was water only 10 meters below us. At first I thought, ‘get some shovels.’ But then I realized the area wasn’t on an electric grid and without diesel fuel, there was nothing we could do,” Kelly said.

“However, I also knew we were on the banks of the Nile River. Yes, it was filled with putrid water but that’s when I decided to develop a solar-powered water pumping system so I could figure out how to get clean drinking water to remote places of the world,” he said.

A few years later, Kelly invited five engineers who had worked with NASA to help him figure out how to harness the sun to fulfill his mission. The result was the Mobile MaxPure in its first iteration.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the system went through a complete overhaul to handle additional challenges. Ingles said the “components and performance of the system are constantly being upgraded and improved.”

He said the research conducted post Katrina has helped to create technology enhancements that are now being used around the world. For example, several-hundred horsepower pumps were used in the Sahara Desert to irrigate 1,000 acres of farmland 180 miles southwest of Cairo. Additionally, eight machines were deployed to Darfur to help curb a cholera outbreak in the refugee camps.

“This is truly about the ability to harness the sun; it’s everywhere. The sun doesn’t recognize economic status; we all enjoy it equally,” Ingles pointed out. “In fact, more energy strikes the earth in sunshine in one hour than the entire globe population uses in a year. The energy is there, we just have to figure out how to harness it, and Worldwater & Solar is doing its part.”

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